'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, January 30, 2005

WSF 2005 

Today was the last day of the World Social Forum. Zeynep of Under the Same Sun was there and has some posts up about it: here and here. Here's an excerpt:

So, yesterday afternoon, tired, hot, severely underslept, I stopped by a panel entitled "Land Rights" -- it had a little subtitle which mentioned the "Dalits." I normally roam through many panels in any given session: I listen a bit, pick up literature and move on -- there are so many simultaneous events and I want to make the best use of my time here. [ ... ]

Paul Divakar, of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights moderated the panel and gave the first talk. It's really the difference between "knowing" something in the abstract and sitting there, looking at a human being and feeling in your heart that this is the ugly truth of this world. Of course I knew the dalits were discriminated against. Still, I felt crushed by the weight of just listening to him explain how they were thought of as the "polluted people," how they were always denied land so that they would be forced to be semi-slaves to the landlords and the dominant castes, how they were forced into occupations considered unclean by the others such as collecting the dead, cleaning up human waste, skinning cows and garbage work in general, how they were to this day beaten up, killed, tortured and raped if they dared to claim a bit of the rights that were accorded to them on paper, how everything was arranged to continue this situation in perpetuity... It was hard listening to it; these people lived it. And you knew it was true. It's just one of those things; you just know this person is telling you a truth.

And the difference between this panel and the the panels by experts, NGOs, even activists from richer countries came up very quickly. At appropriate times, Paul broke into slogans, enthusiastically joined by the Dalit in the crowd. It was one of the most sincere, the least contrived instances I have even encountered of people shouting slogans. I think I have become jaded a bit with all the big demonstrations I have attended in the U.S. I keep feeling almost bored in some of them. I mean, we yell stuff but we don't really mean it. We're not really going to try to stop the Bush administration from waging war. Not really. We will finish the rally and all go home. And all the marchers know this. So does the administration. I I feel fake yelling "No Blood for Oil," or "No War." There will be blood for oil and there will be war because we will allow it. All we are going to do is yell and then go home and do very little else.

So, the Dalits breaking into slogans really shook me because it was like being handed a cup of actual homemade soup after eating a lot of fake, highly-processed versions that come in cans or plastic from supermarkets. All of a sudden, you think, ah, this is what it was meant to be. This is what a slogan is. This is what it sounds like. This is how it is shouted. This is how it is joined. That was processed cheese.

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